Growing up in LA, I didn’t learn much about agriculture. All I knew about bees was that they made honey, and if you made them mad, they’d sting you! Common sense. Okay, and I also knew that bees get nectar from flowers. But that was about it. I learned the hard way that my fruit and almond trees here in Santa Cruz actually NEED bees for pollination or they won’t produce fruit. I was alarmed to hear that pesticides are killing off bees in startling numbers and I have watched the cost of honey skyrocket.
After talking with friends John and Julie (who were planning on becoming beekeepers), my husband Rob and I were curious about what that would entail. Little did we know then that this would become a huge project. Side note: I’m scared of anything with wings — and especially flying insects that sting — and hesitated about venturing into beekeeping. Just the thought of wearing the bee-gear and being swarmed by bees didn’t sit well with me. But, being a good sport, I joined our friends at an introductory beekeeping class and watched dozens of YouTube videos to learn about the fascinating social stratification of bees. I’ve got to admit that I love the fact that the QUEEN BEE rules the roost and that the male drones’ sole purpose is to procreate and then die. Hmmm. The female worker bees do all of the work. They often forage a whopping (combined) 55,000 miles to collect enough pollen from 2 million flowers just to make one pound of honey!
We bought our hive and painted it to blend into the landscaping. I painted vinca all over the boxes so the bees would be able to easily identify their new home, and Julie painted hers with poppies — we chose the indigenous flower theme. In hindsight, I should have painted poison oak plants because that is what covers most of our property.
Next we assembled the honeycomb frames that we placed in the hives. They’re made out of beeswax and save the bees the hassle of having to make their own honeycombs. John and Rob built a little retaining wall and platform for the hives. Before I knew it, the guys were buying all kinds of specialty tools and mixing up concoctions of bee food (bees need sugar water during the winter during the dormant period).
Rob and John took an apiary class last weekend so they got to wear their beekeepers getup and actually work with the bees. Notice I didn’t mention that I was taking the class? Not me! I like my distance. They’re buzzing with enthusiasm (sorry, couldn’t resist!) as they await the arrival of their bees. We won’t harvest any honey this year because the bees will need it to make it through their first winter. That’s another thing I didn’t know. Bees actually eat their honey and need it during the cold months. So we actually steal their honey! No wonder they get mad when we smoke them out of their homes and take the honey.
So I’m on board. Setting up a bee hive provides much-needed pollination for our fruit trees and we take a small step in saving the bee population. If you live outside of the city limits (don’t try to start a hive in your apartment), you might consider becoming a beekeeper! I’ll post again after we get our bees and harvest our first honey!